Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Review
With Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, director Ryan Coogler had perhaps the largest degree of difficulty faced by any filmmaker in recent memory.
Coogler had to successfully pay tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, who played T’Challa in the first movie, one that would have been unthinkable without him, while also letting the franchise go one without Boseman and T’Challa in a way that’s tasteful and true.
He also had to tell a story about Wakanda without its most important character while also, let’s not forget, creating a movie that works on its own. And of course, he had to fit that all into the existing MCU, while also setting up future sequels and spinoffs.
Did Coogler pull it off? He got most of the way there. While not near the achievement of the first Black Panther movie, and not equal to the quality of the hero, villain, or overall premise, Wakanda Forever gets all the big things right. It delivers some fantastic moments and pays off its most important emotional arcs. It also succeeds in ending the losing streak that has plagued most of Marvel’s Phase 4.
The director showed in both Fruitvale Station and Creed, prior to his MCU arrival, that he was like few current directors in the way he composes beautiful shots and compositions; there is about a half-dozen in Creed alone that I think of regularly. He does that again here, especially in an amazing final battle sequence, the sort of thing that in a lot of Marvel movies is the worst part. Ruth E. Carter, who won an Oscar for the costumes in the first Black Panther movie, contributes to the amazing look once again.
Unfortunately, the movie’s fight scenes are plagued by the sort of shaky-cam style that’s always unwatchable in so many action movies. I would think that Coogler, who staged that amazing single-take fight scene in Creed, would know better.
To describe what happens requires a minor dive into spoilers territory, starting now:
The film begins in the immediate aftermath of the death of T’Challa, before jumping a year later. His mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) has assumed the crown, although the Black Panther mantle remains vacant. The film first hints at a conflict between Wakanda and the United States, over T’Challa’s since-abandoned pledge to share Wakandan technology with the world.
But the main battle is between the Wakandans and another “secret” civilization with its own backstory, world-building, and mythology. The primary antagonist is their leader Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who leads an underwater civilization that recalls the underwater film festival from that one episode of Bojack Horseman.
The other key arc in the film is that of Shuri (Letitia Wright), the late king’s sister, who spends most of the film in an arc that’s one of the new film’s more compelling elements. Most of the other major characters return from the first film, including Lupita Nyong’o’s Wakandan spy Nakia, Danai Gurira’s General Okoye, and Winston Duke’s aspiring warrior king M’Baku.
The plot jumps from Wakanda to the United Nations (now located, for some reason, in Zurich instead of New York) to a couple of underground locations to other places I won’t reveal. The Boston sequence introduces us to Riri (Dominique Thorne), a genius MIT undergrad who has made a shocking discovery; she is said to be the star of a future Disney+ series.
Chadwick Boseman died way too soon, and the natural direction of the second Black Panther movie clearly didn’t entail the other characters mourning his death. While it doesn’t quite match the first Black Panther, Ryan Coogler and the other filmmakers have mostly successfully picked up the pieces and made a worthy follow-up.